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Alternative names

Acute abdomen


An inflammation (irritation) of the peritoneum, the membrane that lines the wall of the abdomen and covers the abdominal organs.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Types of peritonitis include:
  • Peritonitis - spontaneous
  • Peritonitis - secondary
  • Peritonitis - dialysis associated
Intraabdominal abscess ( abdominal abscess ). This condition involves a collection of pus in the abdomen and may cause peritonitis. Before peritonitis develops, it can still cause symptoms that are similar or identical to peritonitis.


  • Abdominal pain
  • Abdominal tenderness
  • Abdominal distention
  • Fever
  • Low urine output
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Point tenderness
  • Thirst
  • Fluid in the abdomen
  • Inability to pass feces or gas
Additional symptoms that may be associated with this disease:
  • Cloudy dialysis fluid (if undergoing peritoneal dialysis )
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Shaking chills
  • Signs of shock

Signs and tests

Examination of the abdomen typically shows tenderness. The abdomen may feel firm and "board-like" and there may be extensive "guarding" (protective movements such as curling up or refusal to allow the abdomen to be touched).

Blood tests and X-rays or CT scans may be ordered.


The cause must be identified and treated promptly.

Treatment typically involves surgery and antibiotics. In cases associated with peritoneal dialysis, antibiotics may be infused through the dialysis catheter, but if the infection is severe, the catheter itself must often be removed.

Expectations (prognosis)

The outcome is often good with treatment, but can be poor without treatment. Sometimes the outcome is poor even with prompt and adequate treatment.


Peritonitis can be life-threatening and cause a number of different complications, depending on the type.

Calling your health care provider

Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if you have symptoms that may indicate peritonitis, as it is a medical emergency.


Prevention depends on the cause. See the specific types of peritonitis.

Update Date: 7/22/2002

Julie A. Miller, M.D., Department of Surgery, Royal Melbourne Hospital, Melbourne, Australia. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

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Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT